I remember having to import my first mobile VR headset from the USA back in 2014. Skip forwards to 2017 and mobile VR headsets are available in tech stores, toy stores and even so e supermarkets in a wide range of styles, sizes and price points.
I was recently given the green light to purchase 24 headsets for our Secondary school so I started researching our options. I already had about seven different types of Mobile VR headset myself but I ordered another four types based on the recommendations of others and my own research online. In the process I began to distil the following list of 12 criteria that would inform my evaluation of the headsets:
1. Price per unit
Particularly relevant for us as a not-for-profit school in the UAE. Several headsets are not available here directly and thus have to be imported, raising the price.
Naturally we want headsets that are quite robust and can stand pretty regular usage over a sustained period.
3. Ease of use
How easy is the headset to use with a phone? Would studnets be able to use them independently?
4. Interaction button
Many mobile VR experiences are quite passive or use an on-screen targeting system for simple interaction. Having a physical capacitive touch button allows for some more advanced interaction though.
5. Field of view
The wider the FOV on offer, the more immersive the experiences will be.
6. Phone accommodation
Phone sizes vary quite a lot these days. To use a headset with a BYOD scheme, you need to ensure headsets can accommodate a variety of model sizes.
7. Audio input
Does the device support the use of headphones by accommodating wires/jacks in the design?
8. Focal length adjustment
Important for allowing users to enjoy a clear VR experience.
9. Lens distance adjustment
Actually quite important when using VR with students as their faces can be smaller and thus their eyes closer together.
Having a headstrap means that longer VR experiences can be enjoyed without causing tired arms. We also want the strap to be adjustable for students of different sizes.
Is the headset comfortable on the face? Is it cushioned against the face etc?
12. Weight of headset
We’re strapping a device onto students’ heads – it’s pretty crucial that the weight is kept down as the phones inside them will bump it up considerably.
Here’s a look at three very good headsets for schools, including the Bobo VR which ultimately became the one we chose to invest in.
I do love these headsets and we use them in our primary schools. Surprisingly cheap, easy to use and 100° FOV produces a decent viewing experience. It’s lighter than you might expect too and has a big, easy to access interaction button.
What it lack are things like a headstrap, focus/lens control and crucially audio access. You can use external headphones but the wire is clipped (and thus possibly damaged) by the case. I also found that if the headphones have a larger jack, it may be too big to use at all. Wireless headphones would not be an issue but we needed something that would work in a BYOD capacity with students having a wide range of phones and headphones.
It should be noted that I only had access to the original ViewMaster headset. The newer ViewMaster Deluxe fixes the headphones issue using a built-in jack and adds focus adjustment. Unfortunately I found that this model was not readily available in the UAE yet and importing them would mean a greater cost and a longer wait.
Best Price in Dubai: 129AED ($35)
Pros: Cheap, quite robust, easy to use.
Cons: No headstrap, audio input issues, no lens adjustment
A few friends in the US really raved about this headset but I knew it wouldn’t really be a viable option as they have to be imported right now and the Merge is already a slightly more expensive choice. The foam build on the headset is awesome though - meaning you can actually drop one and know that the headset and device inside will be fine. Surprisingly though, the headset is actually quite bulky and a lot heavier than it looks – something remarked upon by pretty much everyone that tested it for me. It is pretty comfortable to wear nonetheless and a headstrap is included.
The Merge has a lot of neat features though – from the easy access interaction buttons (which double as lens adjustors) on top to the removable window on the front to allow camera access and the ability to view AR content stereoscopically - though only a few apps offer this functionality right now.
Which brings me to the thing that really let me down about the Merge and quite unexpectedly. Inserting your phone into the Merge is unlike most other headsets. There is no latched opening but rather a phone shaped slit in the top which you push your device down into. Whilst this does indeed hold the phone quite snugly, it can be a real pain to fit larger devices into the gap and we found that quite often either the start of the experience would be missed or more often, one of the phone’s buttons would be pressed during insertion and the phone would have to be removed to reset the app/video. Not exactly conducive to quick, easy classroom use with students!
Best Price in Dubai: 311AED ($85)
Pros: Foam design, audio input, interaction button/lens adjustment,
Cons: More expensive, quite heavy to wear, awkward system for inserting device
Bobo VR Z4
I came across the Bobo headsets during online research and was impressed by the positive reviews their Z4 headset was getting everywhere I looked. Then I searched for a sample and was shocked at how cheap I could get them – basically only a shade more than a simple cardboard headset. I ordered one to test and was really impressed by what it offered:
-It has a whopping 120⁰ FOV and allows for both focus and lens distance adjustments.
-It actually has headphones built-in to the headset (with a jack to connect to phones and even a volume dial) but can also accommodate the use of other headphones.
-There are sliding grips inside which adjust to allow for various phone sizes to fit comfortably.
-The headstrap and cushioned eye mask make it incredibly comfortable to use and the headset is also very light
-An interaction button is included (though a little awkwardly placed on the bottom of the headset)
Though it did not seem like the most durable headset that I tried, it ticked so many other boxes that it quickly became obvious that this was the headset we would invest in. The price alone (I’ve been picking them up for around 85AED which is about $23!) meant that I could purchase a set of 24 for half the originally estimated price – meaning that a few spares could also be accommodated.
One thing that concerned us was that the latched opening to insert the phone could become damaged by students if handled too roughly. To combat this I produced the following short tutorial video:
I put a set of sheets containing a QR link to the video into the box with the headsets and we set the rule that students must watch the video before using the headsets for the first time.
Best Price in Dubai: 85AED ($23)
Pros: Price, high FOV, integrated headphones, lens/focus control, comfort, adjustable headstrap, accommodates a wide range of phones
Cons: Not the most robust headset available